family


Warning:  This is a long post …..

Mike’s Wall Frog made me smile and brought me joy each day of my visit.

The Wall Frog

The Wall Frog

The creature Nicole made for me makes me smile and brings me joy each day.

Nicole's Creature

Nicole’s Creature

Alexis’s self portrait makes me smile and bring me joy each day.

Bust of Alexis, Sculpture, Self-Portrait

Bust of Alexis, Sculpture, Self-Portrait

My study of the brain began in October of 2007 when my sister sent me a copy of The Joy of Living, Unlocking the Secret & Science of Happiness written by Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.  I quote from the front flap of the cover:

“In this groundbreaking work, world-renowned Buddhist teach Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche invites us to join him in unlocking the secrets behind the practice of meditation.  Working with neuroscientists at the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, Yongey Mingyur provides clear insights into modern research indicating that systematic training in meditation can enhance activity in areas of the brain associated with happiness and compassion.”

At the time, I practiced yoga daily, both at home and at a nearby yoga center.  On Sunday mornings I painted the yoga students during the early morning Ashtanga class.  For me, live painting is a form of meditation.  Drawing and painting, whether en plein air, in the studio or at a performance is always a form of meditation.  I thought that by combining yoga and breathing exercises with simple visual creativity exercises I might unlock the door to the joy of living in a world of creativity for those who convince themselves that they are not creative.  It is my belief that everyone can live a creative life, experiencing joy every day without quitting a job to become an artist, a musician or a poet.  Being an artist, my path is mostly through the forest of the visual arts.  That is the path I’m able to share with others.  For about a year I offered Creativity Workshops at the Yoga Center,  at an art gallery and in my home.  At the end of the year I stopped.  I had not successfully communicated my message, perhaps because I had not stated what that message really was…..

If I don’t exercise, nurture and challenge my brain, each and every day, it will lose its ability to perform the tasks I need it to perform.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that even if I exercise, nurture and challenge my brain, I might be one of the many unlucky individuals whose brain stops serving them well in spite of Herculean efforts.  My father is one of those unlucky ones.  Into his mid eighties he walked seven miles a day.  He read hundreds of books, wrote poetry on a daily basis, danced four nights a week, played (and won) at card games and board games to say nothing of being the neighborhood Croquet Champion.  He volunteered in his community, served as a business arbitrator and stayed involved with the activities of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  My father suffers dementia, perhaps Alzheimer’s.

Two years ago we moved my father out of the house he and my mother built with their own hands.  He now lives in an assisted living facility, a forty minute drive from my home.  Thursday is our day together.  For the first year and a half, we walked together exploring the parks, trails, gardens and forests in the area.  We stopped to rest on benches, rocks and tree stumps.  My father wrote poetry and I sketched.  Dad never remembered where we had been, nor that I had been to see him.  The only evidence of our adventures is his green notebook, my sketchbook and the weekly blog posts on our family site, Walks With Dad.  I tried to present the day with truth and humor while, at the same time, letting my siblings know how my father was doing.  Our adventurous walks have now become quite tame due to my father’s quickly debilitating condition.

Dad was an electrical engineer.  One might say that he was extremely left-brained.  Abstract art was a total mystery to him.  A building drawn without being in perfect perspective was simply bad art.  His poetry had to rhyme. He thought, because I often painted abstractly, I painted that way because I hadn’t learned to draw well enough to create real art.  About the same time that we noticed his memory slipping, I noticed that he spent more time looking at abstract art than representational art when he attended my exhibits.  At one gallery, he made the comment, “I think I finally understand why you might want to paint like that.”  I was stunned.

A year ago it became increasingly difficult to inspire my dad to write poetry.  He couldn’t find words, any words.  Rather than frustrate him, I taught him how to do contour drawings.  He became focused, drawing until I told him he could stop.  After drawing, he started using adjectives again in his speech.  If I asked him to write a poem, he did so without resistance, often writing expressively rather than in forced rhyme.

Around this time I stumbled upon Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee.  The brain is remarkably adaptable.  When one area is injured, another area steps in to fill the void when possible.  I believe my father’s right side of the brain has compensated, a bit, for loss in the left side of his brain.  He can now identify the subject of abstract drawings of objects, whereas he could not do so before.

In spite of Dad’s total loss of short term memory at this point, he can still follow the calls at a square dance and he can still win at games, even Bridge!  I am hoping that my habit of drawing and painting every day will serve me as well.  When I can’t remember who I am I hope I will still be drawing and painting.

This brings me full circle.  Though it might be futile, I am breathing new life into my Creativity Workshops, dedicated to presenting brain exercises through creativity.  Using the vocabulary of art: Line, Shape, Value, Texture and Color,  The Creativity Workshop introduces simple games that can be played daily with common items such as paperclips, string and toothpicks.  I want to teach these classes during lunch breaks at corporations as stress relievers and brain teasers.  I want to present them at Centers for Healing, in schools, hospitals, prisons and summer camps.

Seeing the smile on my father’s face when I hand him his green notebook, now almost filled with his poetry, reminds me of the importance of not giving up on him, and not giving up on anyone else, either.  My father turns 90 on February 24th, 2013.

Dad drawing cherries before writing a poem after a picnic at Feltville, NJ

Dad drawing cherries before writing a poem after a picnic at Feltville, NJ

Sketchbook drawings:  Top – Wall Frog – Ink and waterbrush.  All the others are drawn first in ink with a fountain pen, followed by watercolor.

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How do they do it?  Every Royal Riviera pear shipped from Harry and David is perfect in every way.

Harry and David Royal Riviera Pear

Harry and David Royal Riviera Pear

They arrive at my door once a year with instructions to guide me through their final ripening stage.  I am also instructed to devour them within ten days.  Nicole and I have no problem following the directions.  They are the perfect gift.  They come in a box, they fill us with pleasure and then they are gone, never to collect dust or take up space.  What lingers is another wonderful memory of yumminess, smiles, moans and groans of culinary pleasure.

Sketchbook Drawings:  Royal Riviera Christmas Pears – Drawn first with inkbrush filled with Noodler’s Black Ink, followed by watercolor.

Here it is, the recipe for the cookies I have made every December for the last twenty five years.

cookie-tins-aluminum-foil-cookies-ink-watercolor-sketchbook-drawings-chris-carter-artist-121112-webs

Cookie Tins and Cookies (before dipping)

Festive Cookie Dough

3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter or margarine softened (I use half butter, half margarine)
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon almond extract

add about ¾ cup chocolate chips (or more) to batter.  Roll into crescents.

Use shortening (Crisco) to melt into chocolate chips for dipping (not too much or the chocolate will get drippy)  I think about a tablespoon or two per small saucepan of melted chips.

Stir together flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  Beat butter and cream cheese with electric mixer for 30 seconds.  Add sugar.  Beat until fluffy.  Add egg, vanilla and almond extract.  Beat well.  Gradually add flour mixture.  Cover and chill overnight or freeze up to 3 months.

If mixing without electric beaters or food processor, make sure to beat butter and cream cheese until extremely smooth and well mixed.

Roll into crescent shaped cookies and place on ungreased baking pans or pans lined with aluminum foil.  Bake 350 degrees for 8-12 minutes, just until slightly golden. (Depending on how fat your cookies are, it may take up to 15 minutes.)  They should still be soft when taken out of oven or they will be too hard when cooled.  Bake long enough that they don’t fall apart when dipped into melted chocolate.

To decorate, dip into melted Toll House chips with a bit of shortening added.  roll in jimmies or colored sugar or nuts.  Viola ! ! ! ! !

Double batch yields 210 cookies.  An 8” tin holds 46 cookies (for gift giving)

Enjoy!

Image: Cookie Tins and Festive Cookies before dipping – Drawn first with fountain pen followed by watercolor. An examaple of Exercise One Part Three (to be posted on the Tools and Techniques Blog on Friday … Part two posts at 9 am today)

One of the many rewards of motherhood is receiving wonderful, handmade treasures from my children.

Fimo Creature with Bottle Cap Umbrella

Playing the Seasonal Version of The Color Scheme Game is more difficult than I had imagined.  The task was to paint the sketchbook drawing of the Fimo Creature in Winter Evening colors.  I feel the different parts of my brain working as I roll the clock back to a remembered winter evening and attempt to fix it in my brain. The subject of my drawing is not a factor. I strive to express the mood of the evening by choosing colors that suggest the atmosphere of that past moment.   There are as many color combinations of winter evenings as there are minutes in a day.  At times it feels more like a process of elimination, removing color and saturation options one at a time until I have distilled the choices.  This is exactly what I wanted from this exercise.

Sketchbook drawing:   Family Treasures No. 38, Fimo Creature with Bottle Cap Umbrella. Drawn first with fountain pen followed by watercolor.  Seasonal color Palette …. Winter Evening.

Phil whisked me away to her cottage at Chapman Lake to review the experience of the first Color Scheme Game Workshop.

Forks, Fountain Pens and Friendship

We spent twenty four hours walking, talking, knitting, drawing and eating ice cream.  Standing in a meadow late at night, we gazed up at the Milky Way.  The autumn colors are beginning to show on the trees surrounding the lake.  The cottage has been in her family for decades.  It will soon belong to a new family who will create their own memories and history of summers and weekends swimming, boating and eating ice cream.  Though most of the furniture remains with the house.  The forks will stay with Phil.

Sketchbook drawing: Drawn with a vintage, Sheaffer Fountain Pen, later painted with waterbrush and peerless watercolor papers. Link to the painted version on my Creative Color Blog.

A lone, petunia seed found its way into a package of zinnia seeds.

A petunia thinking it’s a zinnia

When the flowers began to bloom I was startled by the odd petunia in my flower bed of zinnia.  It has grown tall and strong among its peers, perhaps, as the swan thought itself to be a duckling, the petunia thinks it’s a zinnia.  Never have a seen a petunia grow so tall and upright.

I am reminded of the inspiration and standards set for me by my fellow artists and the significant mentors in my life.  I am so much stronger thanks to the example they set for me.

My children have fabulous friends and I’m fortunate that they share them with me.

Flowers from a loving friend

Tom and I sat in the backyard.  We raised our glasses to all those we love and have loved.

A UPS truck rumbled up the driveway.

“The coffee!”  Tom anticipated the arrival of another giant bag of beans from Chick. Tom was repairing Chick’s coffee bagger when his heart rebelled.  Chick watched over Tom the entire week he was in the hospital in Long Island.  He continues to keep us supplied with coffee and Tom still keeps Chick’s machine humming along, one of the few coffee customers whose baggers he still services.

Tom returned to the table with not one, but two boxes.  The second box was a long purple box, obviously flowers.  It was addressed to my son, Michael, whose father passed away on Saturday.  Flowers for the living!  Flowers for and from loving friends.  The cheerful daisies survived their voyage in the cardboard box and have now recovered, bringing smiles and hugs across many miles to touch not just Michael’s heart, but my heart, too.

Thank you, dear friend!

Painting for Michael:  ink and watercolor, drawn first with fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Black Ink, followed by watercolor, followed by a few more lines drawn with the fountain pen.

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